Watching my neighbors watch on-demand television.

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June 1 2007 4:11 PM

Other People's Porn

Watching my neighbors watch on-demand television.

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Other downsides: You can't control what's on. Not much of the content is in HD, which is unfortunate for those of us with HDTV setups. The show you're watching also might suddenly stop or fast-forward, like you've wandered inside someone else's TiVo. If your neighbor pauses Entourage to go to the bathroom, you'll just have to wait until he finishes. If he wants to skip the exposition and go right to the sex scenes, then you're going to the sex scenes, too. And if he stops watching Stranger Than Fiction with five minutes to go—well, you're just screwed.

But you can't beat the price (free), and sometimes it's fun to cede control. My friend who grabs on-demand stuff from Time Warner calls it "mystery cable"—it's fun to flip around the channels and hope you get lucky.

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There is a science to watching other people's on-demand. If you want to catch the latest Sopranos or Entourage, start looking on Monday night—some of your neighbors will be catching up because they missed their shows on Sunday. Browsing during prime time will yield more programs than snooping in the middle of the day. If you start looking around 9 o'clock on a weeknight and 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, you'll generally find a well-stocked buffet of recent movies.

On-demand voyeurism works the best for guilty pleasures or movies that you've already seen. If you're dying to see The Queen, get the DVD. If you're in the mood for popcorn fare like Deja Vu or Derailed, you probably won't mind if the movie starts in the middle or if the action pauses for a few minutes. And don't worry: In my experience, only the porn viewers really lean on the fast-forward button. If you sit back on a Friday night to watch someone else's movie, there's a great chance you'll see it all the way through.

My magical box will eventually stop working. Comcast plans to scramble the VOD content from premium networks (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax) first and move on from there. In the meantime, I encourage the people of Washington, D.C., to continue to order on-demand movies. For one thing, I still haven't seen the beginning of Deja Vu. If someone could queue that up for me tonight, I'd appreciate it.

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